A Study of History

By Arnold J. Toynbee; D. C. Somervell | Go to book overview

V. CHALLENGE AND RESPONSE

(1) THE MYTHOLOGICAL CLUE

IN our search so far for the positive factor in the geneses of civilizations we have been employing the tactics of the classical school of modern physical science. We have been thinking in abstract terms and experimenting with the play of inanimate forces—race and environment. Now that these manoeuvres have ended in our drawing blank, we may pause to consider whether our failures may not have been due to some mistake of method. Perhaps, under the insidious influence of the spirit of an outgoing age, we have fallen victims to what we will call the 'apathetic fallacy'. Ruskin warned his readers against the 'pathetic fallacy' of imaginatively endowing inanimate objects with life; but it is equally necessary for us to be on our guard against the converse error of applying to historical thought, which is a study of living creatures, a scientific method devised for the study of inanimate nature. In our final attempt to solve the riddle let us follow Plato's lead and try the alternative course. Let us shut our eyes, for the moment, to the formulae of science in order to open our ears to the language of mythology.

It is clear that if the geneses of civilizations are not the result of biological factors or of geographical environment acting separately, they must be the result of some kind of interaction between them. In other words, the factor which we are seeking to identify is something not simple but multiple, not an entity but a relation. We have the choice of conceiving this relation either as an interaction between two inhuman forces or as an encounter between two superhuman personalities. Let us yield our minds to the second of these two conceptions. Perhaps it will lead us towards the light.

An encounter between two superhuman personalities is the plot of some of the greatest dramas that the human imagination has conceived. An encounter between Yahweh and the Serpent is the plot of the story of the Fall of Man in the Book of Genesis; a second encounter between the same antagonists, transfigured by a progressive enlightenment of Syriac souls, is the plot of the New Testament which tells the story of the Redemption; an encounter between the Lord and Satan is the plot of the Book of Job; an encounter between the Lord and Mephistopheles is the plot of Goethe's Faust; an encounter between Gods and Demons is the plot of the Scandinavian Voluspa; an encounter between Artemis and Aphrodite is the plot of Euripides'Hippolytus.

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A Study of History
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • A Study of History *
  • Plan of the Book *
  • Preface *
  • Note by the Editor of the Abridgement *
  • Table of Contents *
  • I- Introduction *
  • I. the Unit of Historical Study *
  • Ii. the Comparative Study of Civilizations *
  • Iii. the Comparability of Societies *
  • II- The Geneses of Civilizations *
  • Iv. the Problem and How Not to Solve It *
  • V. Challenge and Response *
  • Vi. the Virtues of Adversity *
  • Vii. the Challenge of the Environment *
  • Viii. the Golden Mean *
  • III- The Growths of Civilizations *
  • Ix. the Arrested Civilizations *
  • X. the Nature of the Growths of Civilizations *
  • Xi. an Analysis of Growth *
  • Xii. Differentiation through Growth *
  • IV- The Breakdowns of Civilizations *
  • Xiii. the Nature of the Problem *
  • Xiv. Deterministic Solutions *
  • Xv. Loss of Command over the Environment *
  • Xvi. Failure of Self-Determination *
  • V- The Disintegrations of Civilizations *
  • Xvii. the Nature of Disintegration *
  • Xviii. Schism in the Body Social *
  • Xix. Schism in the Soul *
  • Xx. the Relation between Disintegrating Societies and Individuals *
  • Xxi. the Rhythm of Disintegration *
  • Xxii. Standardization through Disintegration *
  • Editor''s Note *
  • Argument *
  • Index *
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